Yo La Tengo - Concert Review

May 13th

Montreal, Canada - The Cabaret

"Beautiful people, you're all such beautiful people" a serene voice blurted out, interupting the only -out of place- quiet moment of this concert. A sort of glow/positive energy was emitted by this veteran indie rock band throughout their 2 1/2 - 3 hour set. And what a set it was...

It began with a trip downtown - to Montreal's chic St-Laurent street, where after a brief struggle for parking, we were waiting in line, rearing to go. The atmosphere among the indie kids waiting in line was a calm one, many giggles and serious discussions could be heard but an anxious look could be seen on every single one of their faces. Finally at 8:30, the club opened its doors to ticket holders, and slowly, the sold out crowd filed its way inside.

This being my first time at the Cabaret, I was a little dumbfounded to find myself standing on the balcony, unable to find a way downstairs. After quite a long search, my friends opted to sit down on the balcony while I headed downstairs, determined to stand as close to the stage as possible.

After a brief but uncomfortable wait all alone , the lights dimmed. I glimpsed at my watch, pleasantly surprised that the show would start on time at 9:00pm. I quickly made my way to the front of the stage and watched as four rather tall guys took to their instruments.

The two guitarist, upright bassist and drummer immediately began to play a song that sounded a lot like instrumental rockers, The Huevos Rancheros. At the end of the very nice opening song, the singer/rhythm guitarist who I mistook for Beck, introduced his band, The Sadies. They had a rather stiff stage presence, but the music was definitly good, even though it was destroying my ears (I was standing right beside the speakers). 30 minutes into their set, the singer's brother (the lead guitarist), broke out a fiddle and they began to play a style which mixed that of the Huevos Rancheros, Country music, Underdog Theme and Muddy Waters Blues. Notably, they also preformed a delightful cover of a Carol King song. They played until 9:50pm and they definitly caught my interest. I tried signalling my friend up on the balcony to go and pick up one of their CDs for me at the merchandise booth, but he mistook my hand signals as telling him to buy himself another cocktail.

Now, it was time for the hard part - the long transition as the crew transformed the stage to meet the needs of the headliner. To the left, front stage was the organ and two synths. Directly behind it was James McNew's bass guitar. Front stage right, were Ira Kaplan's 2 electric Gibson guitars, Fender Strat and Gibson acoustic guitar along with a pedal board with 8 or 9 different effects and 3 other pedals beside which had a glass of wine. Back Stage center belonged to Georgia Hubley's drum kit. Finally at the center of the stage was a chair with some additional percussion.

Infinite suddenly turned to finite as Ira made his way upon stage, followed by his wife, Georgia and long time friend/band mate, James. They each made their way to their instruments, Ira picking up his red Gibson. Loud squelches came as Ira began to slide his pick up and down the strings of the guitar, caressing it like I have seen no other human do. Like clockwork, James entered playing the bass line of what I think was Spec Bebop. Once Georgia came in, Ira began playing the Simpsons' theme song pumped full of distortion and feedback. The Simpsons quickly but masterfully transformed into I believe it was Tears are in your eyes, but I cannot quite remember. I do however, remember at one point early in the show he put down his acoustic, got on his hands and knees and began playing with the knobs of the effects pedals, creating the most beautiful sound I ever heard. The distortion continued and Ira began to play percussion at the center stage with Georgia. The distortion guitar continued to squelch while Georgia and Ira really began to pound their drums. It was as if Ira predicted and knew exactly how long, what sound and how the distortion would change. Following that came Autumn Sweater which expectedly became a sing along song.

After a marvellous 3 songs, Ira began speaking with the crowd, making jokes about mothers day, exposing a dry wit which made his wife Georgia laugh and shake her head. His comments throughout the night continuously made the crowd laugh, including myself - someone who does not take to humour.

I believe it was right after that point where he said, this one is called Cherry Chapstick. Everyone cheered as he began the opening of the song and it was at this point where I got to see what seperates Yo La Tengo from every other band. Ira's calm demeanour changed completely within a blink of an eye. He began swinging his guitar around and moving fast and violently as if he were one of the rippled sound waves he was spewing through the preamp into the amp into the PA and into our ears. Words cannot possibly describe how this man feels about his music - how deep into it he got. The song was absolutely beautiful and never have I heard someone be able to transform their music into such bizarre and unique pulsing sounds that just dig away at the brain - making you one with it.

The show continued, I was totally amazed, my mouth was wide open the entire show just staring at the stage. What also amazed me, was that throughout the set, James, Ira and Georgia would constantly swap instruments depending on what the song required - most notable was when Georgia took rhythm guitar, and James took drums during Cherry Chapstick and Ira took drums at some point during the show as well.

The concert continued with songs such as Our Way to Fall, Saturday, I believe they played Let's save Tony Orlando's house but cannot remember, The Crying of Lot G, a cover of Pretty Polly and 3 other which I feel stupid for not remembering.

Other notable songs include Sugarcube, Deeper into Movies and I heard you looking which was 19 minutes of the most emotional brain drenching music I ever heard. There was also another amazing song, with Ira on organs. I can't seem to remember what song it was, but it was incredible.

To be honest with you all and this comes from a very non-biased point of view, this concert was the most amazing thing I have ever witnessed in my entire life. The ability of the 3 members of Yo La Tengo to create such a full sound that bands with 6 members cannot even do is quite astouding. Ira's transition from a calm and soft lover to wild and crazy eccentric mad man is quite remarkable. Ira and Georgia both have amazing voices enough to leave you in tears. With James' backup vocals, the surge of emotion really will leave you in a state of complete stasis until the end of the song. The combination of Georgia's beats, James' hypnotic bass lines and Ira's, well Ira's all around creative genius whether it be on the keys, the guitar, the effects - create the most beautiful sounds that none of their cds are able to capture, also on CD you do not get to experience the obvious bond that Ira and Georgia share as a married couple and that Ira, Georgia and James share as artists.

I think saying that the show was very good would be rather redundant so I will conclude by saying that I hope this review was enough to convince you that this is definitly not a band to overlook and if ever the opportunity to see them live arises, I seriously suggest you see them without question. I found it very hard to present this concert in written words as I experienced it on a very emotional level so it may be hard for non-fans or those who have never seen them to relate but I'm sure that those who have will fully agree with me.

If there is a mistake in this account, please email me.


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